Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring

September 1, 2012

On March 16, 2012, the Religious Freedom Project turned to the events of what has been labeled the "Arab Spring" and brought some of the nation’s premier scholars and policymakers to Georgetown in order to debate a critical question: What role, if any, ought religious freedom play in the struggle for self-governance among the countries of the Arab Spring? This report provides a transcript of the discussions that ensued as high-level officials from the Bush and Obama administrations - Dennis Ross, Stephen Hadley, and Elliott Abrams - and other panelists debated a range of related issues: Can religious liberty play a role in helping democracy to root? What is the relationship between religious freedom and religious extremism, defined as political engagement by religious actors that is hostile to constitutional democracy and open to the use of violence? Can religious freedom limit religious extremism? How should U.S. foreign policy seek to promote democratic institutions and regimes of religious liberty that can best counter religious extremism in practice? The answers to these and similar questions are not only important for the Arab Spring countries, their citizens, and their neighbors in the region. The answers are also important for the national security interests of the United States and the American people.


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